American Portrait 14

by Ken Harnisch

The woman gets in the car

At Six-three and Lexington

The doorman tipping his cap as he

Closes the door to the Town Car

Sparing me the trip out into the rain.

“Thank you Walter,” she says, in

This cool diffident voice

Full of money and practice

“Yes, thank you Walter,”

I mutter myself, not wanting to get

My suit any wetter than it is.


I have had this woman before.

She works on Broadway,

In the garment industry

And gets a car every morning.

“We’re going to go down Fifth Avenue,” she says

And turn right on 41st Street

I follow instructions; I am good at listening

And better at not saying anything more


By the by she says, “You look familiar.

Have you driven me before?”

And I say, “yes miss. I picked you up on

The East Side, at the support group a month or so ago.”

She smiles thin as water and says, “Oh, was that you?”


“You had taken the other woman home,” I say.

To Seventy First and third.”

She tells me I have a good memory

And says it was an act of kindness, that’s all

“Things had gotten dicey at the meeting.

I had to get her out of there.”

And then she adds,

“You have no idea how bad it is

Being spouse to someone with Alzheimer’s”


No I don’t and never wishing to know

I remain respectfully silent, but I do say

“And how are you holding up?”

She seems to like this acknowledgment of her grief

And says, “It’s a trial, and I have my days.

Some good, some bad.” Then smiling ruefully.

“Some very bad,” she says.


The cellphone jingles all too merrily

And I turn down the radio so she can speak

And while too many people foolishly think

All chauffeurs are some human version of Saran Wrap

Some of us cannot help but listen keenly to every spoken word.


I hear her arguing with someone I take to be her mother

She is glad to hear the chemo is going well and that

She will be out of the hospital soon

Then she says, if you’re out I want to borrow

Rosa. I need five days away.

To myself.

Can I just have that, mother?


No, he is not doing well

There are fewer good days, mother

He doesn’t know me now

He doesn’t remember anyone,

Or anything.

I only want five days

Is that too much to ask?


She clicks the cellphone shut and says,

“Isn’t it something, when you think

It’s great news that your mother with cancer

Is getting out of the hospital soon

Just so you can get away

From your husband with Alzheimer’s

For just a little while.”


And I say, “I can understand that. You need a life too”

And she says, “A life. I used to have one of those.

I used to smile too.”

And I say, “I can see that.

I can sense you had a vivacious personality.”

And as I scorn myself for my obsequious flattery

She says, ruefully, “Yes, I used to have that.

I wonder if I’ll ever be that way again.”


We arrive at the Broadway address and she

Waits till I open the door

She says, “Thank you for listening.”

She says, “It is good to see you again.”

I say, “I hope to see you again soon.”

She smiles. It is like the sunlight tearing through the clouds

And I feel good for bringing it out in her

A feeling that lasts

As long as it takes to punch the mike

So I can get my next job.


Author's Note: a true story and the most autobiographical of this series

Posted on 08/15/2004
Copyright © 2023 Ken Harnisch

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Melissa Arel on 08/15/04 at 10:19 PM

Wow.. you made me see the whole story as if I was watching it on tv :) Excellent job, Ken.. and thanks for sharing it with us.

Posted by Joan Serratelli on 03/18/09 at 02:09 PM

I, too, could see the whole thing plsy out. Very good desciption of what was going on. Really good read and good job!

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